For one weekend, Ladner’s Kirkland House stepped back in time to a period in history where young men where heading off to a war intended to be over by Christmas.
On Friday, Sept. 28 and Saturday, Sept. 29, Kirkland House played host to a re-enactment of life in Delta during the First World War. Over the two days, visitors stepped out of time and into the rooms of the historic house, peering in as people from the community’s past lived out their lives.
The idea for the performance came from Peg Keenleyside, a theatre aficionado and Delta resident. She had done the same kind of performance for the turn of the century while living in Lynden, Wash., and used a similar format last week to remember the 100th anniversary of armistice.
“The further it gets away from us, the harder it is to remember,” Keenleyside said about WWI. “But of course, coming from theatre, what I know is stories.”
“Once you’ve heard that story, then you really have something to hang your hat on, as it were.”
The historical re-enactment followed the lives of 10 Delta families through the Great War, starting with the declaration of war in August 1914 and ending with the armistice in November 1918. As the audience moved through different rooms of the house — each group starting in a different room and following the lives of different Deltans — the years also changed. The performance opened on the front lawn, then audiences saw each year in a different room, until the actors converged on the front lawn for the armistice.
The performance captured the death of Ladner soldier Sidney Rich, the declaration of his sister Edith to travel to Europe to marry her wounded fiance, the first published poems of Elspeth Honeyman, the dawn of the suffragette movement and the efforts undertaken by Delta’s women to take care of the men at the front.
“When you go see a play that’s a work of invention, it can be brilliant, but it’s somebody’s creation,” said actor Cliff Caprani. “This is an actual historical thing.”
Caprani played Mr. Bailey, a newspaperman and the performance’s only fictional character, but he is well-versed in Delta’s history. He created the documentary Countdown to Sanctuary Wood about Sidney Rich, which premiered in June 2017 after two and a half years of work.
“We worked very hard to get actual facts about people and not to invent too much,” he said about the research that went into the Kirkland House re-enactment. “We played a bit with timelines obviously, but the actual things that happened … that’s all true.
“And that’s what was really fantastic, to try and recapture some of that.”
Over the course of the rehearsals, which took place largely in the Harris Barn beside Kirkland House, each re-enactor had to research their historical character in order to bring them more fully to life.
“That was a really different feeling, that you were really learning and feeling like you know the character really well,” North Delta resident Cathy Deck said. Her son, 14-year-old Ryland Mallari, played soldier Edward Bell, who was engaged to Edith Rich but wounded overseas.
“It was interesting, playing a really old character,” Mallari explained. “I was born in the 2000s, so I’m not used to early 1900s stuff. I learned a lot about the war.”
Deck, who accompanied Mallari to his rehearsals, saw her son’s interest in the history he was learning. But she also saw the challenges in the actual performance.
Keenleyside “had a vision, definitely. But honestly coming in as a person off the street, I was thinking ‘I have no idea how this is ever going to work,’” Deck said. “The thought of people moving through room to room and the years were changing, it was so abstract.
“But I think it really came together in the end,” she continued. “And the fact that we could use the house and be walking through the rooms without being roped off or anything, it really made you feel like you were a fly on the wall.”